| Encounters |

The Girl in the Picture

I retrieve the entire lot, dump it onto my bed, and settle comfortably amid the collection for a solitary reminiscing session


It begins with a request from a friend for a poem I wrote years ago.

I drag out a stepladder and make my way up to a shelf I rarely touch. Stashed up there in storage are things I should throw away, but keep just in case, and mounds of memorabilia: high school writing assignments, poems, letters from friends, yearbooks. And albums. Lots of albums.

Back in high school, my camera and I were tight. There was so much fun to be captured, idyllic times to be preserved. And if ever I couldn’t be bothered with posing, there was always an equally photo-obsessed friend on hand to ensure that no Moment went undocumented. And back in the days, everything was A Moment.

Also, we actually did that thing called Developing Pictures. We selected the images, printed them, and captioned the ones that required explanation. (Okay, maybe also some of those that didn’t. Part of the fun). All this resulted in stacks of albums stuffed with photos, 4x6-inch snippets of the past.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, possibly boredom, or likely an excuse for procrastinating an undesirable task — whatever the reason, I find myself sitting on the top step of the ladder, poem forgotten, leafing through an album at random. I recollect, I chuckle, and finally, I give up all pretense. I retrieve the entire lot, dump it onto my bed, and settle comfortably amid the collection for a solitary reminiscing session.

In the first book, The Girl in the Picture, a younger version of the Woman in the Mirror, is in the midst of what began as a study session and apparently dissolved into an impromptu dance class. There’s a CD player in the background, the table is strewn with discarded notes and popcorn, and The Girl in the Picture and her friends, spread out in various poses, are laughing.

Then there’s The Girl in the Picture, among a beaming group, wielding various art paraphernalia, and flashing thumbs-up against the backdrop of a half-completed bulletin board. The entire class, mouths open to the camera, display blue tongues.

Something tickles at the edge of my consciousness. There was a joke associated with that. I think everything had a joke back then. Maybe everything was a joke.

I’m onto camp memories now. The Girl in The Picture is soaking wet, giggling, with dripping hair and drenched clothing. In the next image, she’s high up on a chairlift, tiny in the photo, feet dangling, face grinning. Sharing earphones with a friend, eyes closed, arms outstretched.

There’s one where The Girl in the Picture and two others are hiding out. From whom? From what? I have no idea. But they’re clearly enjoying every minute.

School again. The Girl in the Picture is huddled with her classmates around a textbook, shrieking and pulling at their hair in exaggerated frustration. Shabbaton, sleds, and snow. The Girl in the Picture has her face partially obscured by a fuzzy scarf, windblown hair flying in every direction, cheeks rosy with cold and exhilaration, laughing.

Laughing, always laughing.

I reach for another album. Thick, white, leather-bound. A wedding album. The Girl in the Picture is radiant, surrounded by flowers, enveloped in lace and tulle and dreams. She smiles blissfully, beatifically, gazing into a bright and beautiful future. There she is again, dancing, her happiness practically vibrating off the still image.

I study The Girl in the Picture. The fun-loving teenager, the content camper, and then the glowing bride. Carefree, complacent, secure in her happiness, in this thing called Life. As if it’s all bliss and laughter and dreams come true.

She doesn’t know of struggle and confusion, of paralyzing fear and searing pain. She hasn’t yet encountered unfathomable cruelty, wrenching decisions, and questions that have no answers.

If The Woman in the Mirror were to tell her, make her aware, would she still smile? If she had an inkling of reality, would her eyes still sparkle with delight?

But as I peer into the shining eyes of The Girl in the Picture, as I behold her gleeful giggles and joyous grins, I don’t tell her any of this.

Because I’m happy for The Girl in the Picture. I’m thrilled for the sun-drenched world in which she lives. I’m glad she’s laughing today, instead of worrying whether the laughter will carry over into tomorrow.

Because if I open her eyes, the newfound awareness won’t ease the future challenges. It’ll only dim the present smiles. And sometimes, it’s yesterday’s smiles that propel her through today’s struggles.

But most of all, it’s because there’s infinitely more that The Girl in the Picture doesn’t know. She has yet to experience the breathtaking wonder, the exquisite beauty, the intensity of joy that The Woman in the Mirror knows. She cannot fathom how deep fulfillment can run, how love can expand one’s entire being.

The Girl in the Picture may be unaware of life’s trials. But she also hasn’t tasted the extent of its blessings.

It’s true, I tell The Woman in the Mirror. There is hurt and sorrow and plenty of uncertainty. There’s a past to be fretted about, and a future to be agonized over. But there’s also so much laughter to be found in the present.

And if I so choose, The Woman in the Mirror of today can be The Smiling Girl in the Pictures of Tomorrow.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 732)

Oops! We could not locate your form.